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World War I Posters: Making a Point from a Distance

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This is a guest post from our Library of Congress colleague Cheryl Lederle, who develops classroom materials and presents professional development to K-12 teachers.

“The Spirit of ’18” by William McKee

Before television and before radio, people communicated across distances using print. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, then one of the most compelling print formats is the poster.

The Library of Congress has a large online collection of posters from World War I, a time when especially engaging and effective posters were in use. Why? Innovative design trends included more color and more visual images. Television and radio media had not yet developed, so posters were widely used to disseminate information and to persuade people to join the war effort.

Although the majority of the World War I posters in the Library’s collections were produced in the United States, samples from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, and Russia are included as well. This international perspective is invaluable to understanding the complexities of the conflict itself and various perspectives on the fight.

Nearly 2000 of the posters have been digitized, so they’re easy to use in classrooms. The experts who acquire and manage these collections have created sample lists on common themes. Explore these groups of items to get started:

“Zeichnet 7. Kriegsanleihe” by Alfred Offner

Because these primary sources often include both text and visual elements, they appeal to many students. Use these posters to help students understand how soldiers were recruited and how the folks back home were involved, too.

Here are a few ways to teach with these posters:

  • Students may identify persuasive techniques, considering not only the wording, but also the images used.
  • Students may analyze and compare the points of view represented by posters from different countries.
  • The collection is rich in symbols that students may study and then use to create a poster representing a particular point of view or position.
  • Groups of students may examine a set of posters and identify common themes; students may also choose a theme and compile a set of posters.

The Library’s collection of World War I posters is available at World War I Posters.

How would you use these posters with your students? If you’ve already used posters like these in your teaching, please let us know how it went.

Comments (3)

  1. One of my favorite collection of war posters can be found in the Hargrett Library at the University of Georgia: The DjVu plug-in is required, but they are wonderful! I hope you take a look!

  2. The Library’s collection is a wonderful resource. I use several of them in teaching Political Science and Public Administration. I also use them in a political relationships and communication class.
    I am interested in finding out how I can find the dimensions of the original posters. Size can matter.

  3. Peter, I’m glad to hear that you’ve gotten good use out of the Library’s collections.

    The best way to find the measurements of particular posters would be to ask one of the Library’s specialists. Just use the Ask a Librarian button at the top of this Web page, and select “Prints & Photographs” to find out more.

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